Interview with ICMP tutor and Amy Lives director Xantone Blacq
To celebrate Piano Day, Xantone Blacq tells us about his love for the instrument and more...
Xan is a seasoned musician, vocalist, artist and of course keys player, having spent three years in Amy Winehouse’s backing band and now continues to celebrate her legacy as musical director for the Amy Lives band. Alongside this, he works as a solo artist, tutor and more. We caught up with him to discover more about his passion for the piano and what's been keeping him busy…
What drew you to the piano as an instrument - was there a person, record or particular player who initially attracted you to it?
I started playing keyboards first and that was because I was a singer and didn’t want to feel powerless. I was writing vocal melodies and lyrics but did not know how to create the chords to go with them. I didn't want to have to wait for somebody else to help me so I started teaching myself. After a number of years of playing keyboards I decided to go to the mother instrument and buy a piano. That really changed the quality of my technique - there's no beating a great acoustic piano that's in tune!
What would you advise anyone looking to begin playing the piano?
My first piece of advice to anybody wanting to be a musician including people wanting to be pianists is that music is a language. If you follow that thinking you will realise that to say you are fluent in any language, you need to be able to read, write, speak and comprehend it. If you wanted to learn Russian for example, that is what you would need to do. The same applies for music. Likewise, if you are learning a new language, you need to speak, listen, write and read it daily. Well guess what? That’s what you need to do with music.
Take your time, enjoy the learning process and don’t focus too much on 'getting good'. If you keep doing it regularly and most importantly keep the sense of fun in what you are doing, you will 'get good' effortlessly."
Also, there is no substitute for playing a real acoustic piano. I LOVE Rhodes, Wurlitzers and synths and they are all special at what they do.
Are there any tips or words of wisdom you can give to players to help them improve?
Play as often as you can. Don’t think of it as practising; instead think of it as learning a language and approach your learning in that way. Ear training is immensely important! Learn to hear sounds and build emotional associations with them.
Keep learning the language daily and add more to your vocabulary. This will make you the most musical type of person that you can be."
Also, 'practise' away from the instrument. When you are on the train, at the doctors, shopping, you can listen to the tones, sounds and rhythms around you and work out what they are saying. Make sense of sounds around you regularly and frequently.
What are you currently working on outside the classroom?
I believe in dreaming and building your dreams. As a result, I manage and am part of at least five projects. I am performing around the world solo (voice, piano, synth bass), I play with my quartet, with renowned trumpet player Patches Stewart who played with Quincy Jones, Marcus Miller and so many others. A super exciting project is Amy Lives which features me and other original players from Amy Winehouse’s band. There’s loads going on.
In March 2020, Xan will be delivering an exclusive masterclass during our Vocals Weekend Workshop - only £249 for a weekend of expert tuition.
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